Mugging Alarms On ATMs Are Expensive And Useless

Anti-robbery systems at ATMs, like an alarm button button or a PIN code used to alert police you’re getting mugged, are rarely installed on the cash disgorgers, and with good reason.

According to a FTC report, at about $1,500 a pop, they’re expensive to retrofit, the police usually don’t have the resources to respond in real-time, and they result in more false alarms than real calls. In one pilot program, an alarm-equipped ATM resulted in 500 false calls to the cops, and zero real robbery notifications.

Not to mention, the real risk at ATMs is not holdups, but fraudsters slurping up your account info.

Whenever you go to an ATM, scan it for pinhole cameras, tug on the card inserter, and hide your PIN from shoulder surfers. None of that protects you, though, from the guaranteed mugging of a $3.00 withdrawal fee.

REPORT ON EMERGENCY TECHNOLOGY FOR USE WITH ATMs (PDF) [FTC]

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  1. Alvis says:

    There’s no way such a thing should cost $1500. Sounds like contractors trying to gouge banks.

    • Kitamura says:

      I think they keyword is that it’s $1500 to retrofit an existing ATM, it’s probably way cheaper if they roll them off assembly with the tech installed.

      • Dory says:

        Yeah, let’s replace several hundred thousand ATMs just so we can add ineffectual alarms that won’t help you deal with an emergency situation which arises so rarely that most police departments don’t even keep statistics on it.

    • IphtashuFitz says:

      How’s it going to send an alarm to the police, by telepathy? There needs to be a direct phone line or other link into an alarm monitoring service or directly to the 911 service, both of which need to be regularly monitored and tested. The ATM also needs to either have a hidden panic button installed that the user can press unobserved, or it needs to be reprogrammed to accept a panic PIN from a user, continue to operate properly, and also send the alarm signal. And if you’re going the panic PIN route then the ATM needs to be physically upgraded with new hardware that interfaces with the link to the alarm system. This isn’t just a simple matter of hooking up a big red button to a flashing light and siren mounted on the side of the kiosk.

      • Alvis says:

        But you’re talking a couple hundred dollars worth of switches, wires, and microcontrollers, tops.

        • DarthCoven says:

          labor…programming…data lines…you’re forgetting a lot

        • SabreDC says:

          If you’re so sure it is just a few hundred dollars, then by all means, you should jump into this business so you can make a killing.

        • huadpe says:

          And altering a secured system which is designed to be tamper-resistant. And making sure the new system remains tamper resistant And monthly monitoring/telecom costs. And recouping fixed costs of designing a gazillion variables for different kinds of ATMs.

          $1500 might be a bit high, but it’s not crazy out there.

        • Crunchbones says:

          You’re making the (common) mistake of assuming that cost = cost of materials, without taking into account labor and overhead. Yeah, it may be a couple of hundred bucks worth of materials, but who is going to pay for training the installer, buying the installation equipment, the vehicle he arrives in, the gas for the vehicle, the installer’s wages, so on and so forth. If you sell a widget for the cost of the widget itself, you’re not breaking even, you’re actually losing money.

    • AngryK9 says:

      Turnabout is fair play.

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      If you can find a better deal, take it!

    • sleze69 says:

      Sounds like a poster doesn’t understand the costs associated with installations of uncommon parts (you can’t buy these things at Radio Shack).

      • Alvis says:

        Please. These ATMs all run Windows CE or the like anyway. You need a bit of code, a hardware panic button if so desired, and a modem connection to dial police.

        I don’t doubt $1500 is the going rate for shitty contractors milking banks ’cause of this being a “complicated custom job”. Just saying there’s minimal hardware involved, and coding work can be found cheap.

        • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

          All ATM’s are designed the same way on the inside w/all the same clearances?? And “modems” usually don’t work on the digital lines that banks usually use. So you have to get someone in to re-program the digital phone controller and also run the lines. Off hours as well, so they don’t kill the phone system while on the line w/a customer. And if your modem or this system requires another power supply, you need to do that wiring as well, etc…. And I’m not even going to go into how fanatical the equipment company is about their products. You need a rep from them onsite to replace the wire on a customer pin pad at the counter or else face their wrath if something goes wrong.

          Work for a contractor for a bank, and you might understand what it actually costs to do things, and how it’s not as easy as one thinks.

  2. smo0 says:

    I honestly think cameras on the ATMs are about as secure as this is gonna get.
    It’s just used at a later time.
    Unless it’s a hostage situation, cops rarely respond to a “real time” anything.

    • Toffeemama is looking for a few good Otters says:

      I dunno, cops sure showed up quick when our neighbor called them on us for letting water flow into his yard.

    • Donathius says:

      There is often good reason for that. I worked at a KFC in high school in an area with an obscenely low crime rate – one of the Assistant Managers once left the deposit bag full of cash on the drive thru window counter…overnight…with the alarm turned off…and the window wide open and it was still there the next day. The police response for just about anywhere in a city of 130,000 was under 2 minutes. During training they actually told us NOT to call the police or push the emergency button if we were robbed. The concern was a robbery turning into a hostage situation. They told us that they’d rather lose the money than have someone get hurt.

      • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

        When I worked at 7-11 the local cops would come in for free coffee. If they got a report of a robbery, they would not approach with sirens or lights, park a business or two away, and walk in on foot to observe what was happening so as not to spook a robber or it turning into a hostage situation. They would then pursue once they left the store. I had an officer do that one night because as he drove by, he thought he saw something weird, so he parked next door, and watched from an extreme angle so that he could see, but not easily be seen from inside the store.

  3. mac-phisto says:

    it’s better to take precautions from being attacked at an ATM than rely on devices such as this.

    http://www.mastercard.com/us/personal/en/cardholderservices/atmlocations/atm_safetytips.html

  4. Tim says:

    ATM mugging are one of those things that people are extremely scared of and want to spend all kinds of money to prevent, but are actually rare and do relatively little harm (skimming, for example, can be worse for you financially). The last time I saw a discussion about a panic button/panic code on ATMs, people just couldn’t see how it could be anything but an awesome idea. And I’m sure there are some people who think $1,500 a pop is well worth it.

    Personally, the only ATM theft I’ve experienced was skimming. I think that one possible way to reduce skimming would be to have the screen display an image of what the card slot should look like (for ATMs with high-resolution screens, of course). If it doesn’t look like that, either don’t use the ATM or call a bank.

    • Merricat says:

      Even then you aren’t safe. Good, modern skimmers look exactly like the real thing when installed properly. Really the only way to prevent determined skimmers is to ensure the ATM in a secure location where tampering would be noticed and caught.

  5. GuJiaXian says:

    USAA pays all ATM fees (even the fees from the ATM company), so at least some of us don’t get gouged.

  6. Amy Alkon says:

    My friend Sergeant Heather (LAPD) made me get purse-sized pepper spray. Arm it and have it at the ready when you’re at the ATM or walking through a parking garage. She also advises having one velcroed into your car door (on the inside, of course!), another velcroed to your nightstand, and having one more elsewhere in your house.

    • DarthCoven says:

      Just please keep in mind wind direction. Spraying into the wind may get your attacker, but youll get a nice dose too. Cover your eyes and nose with your other arm while you spray.

      • HogwartsProfessor says:

        That’s good advice. According to the BF, who had to be sprayed in training, you do NOT want that crap on your face!

        • DarthCoven says:

          Yes, and if you have asthma, you may want to consider another means of self defense. That shit will trigger the worst attack you’ll ever have, if you survive it.

      • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

        I’m surprised her friend didn’t recommend pepper foam. WAY better than spray. Not only is spray back reduced, after it hits, it “melts” which allows it to get behind/in goggles/glasses people may wear, and many foams also include UV dye, for easy ID even after they clean it off.

    • Wombatish says:

      Get one of the models that come with a ‘test’ water canister.

      It is just point & shoot in general, but it’s hard to have a sense for the force/direction/stream dimensions/etc without seeing it first.

      It will make you more confident with it when the time comes, as well as making it easier to pull the trigger – and if it’s really called for it’s important not to hesitate.

  7. RStormgull says:

    Funny that. The police don’t seem to have problems showing up to my house when the neighbors across the street are fighting. Someone keeps reporting them, but using my address. Or serving papers to folks that don’t live at my house and haven’t for years now.

  8. evnmorlo says:

    After pressing the button a MAC-10 should pop out for your use. Only costs a few hundred dollars.

    Really the machines could be installed in bullet-proof booths and only work when one person enters, but banks would rather buy naming rights for a stadium

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      Soooooo many points of failures in that system. Besides costs(REAL bulletproof glass is expensive), you have to build it, and BP glass is DAMN heavy, so it must be constructed by pros so all the angles are correct, which means you will have NO ATM while they build. Then you have graffiti. You can scratch/paint BP glass, which means you will have to replace it, or if you leave it in place, you now can’t see outside, and can be surprised. Also, you have a great hostage situation; “Give me the money, or I will spray this pepper spray in!” or “I have left a can of pepper spray/RAID on a remote switch. Come out, or I will hit the button”. Etc…

      • evnmorlo says:

        Well, they could go cheap then and just use metal plates. Gas attacks seem rather far-fetched, though staking out the armored boxes and waiting for people to come out would still be a risk

  9. ElizabethD says:

    We just had a terrible robbery/fatal shooting of a man about to make a business cash deposit — in broad daylight on the doorstep of a bank branch in Rhode Island a few days ago. When thieves want something that badly and that fast, there really isn’t a viable response.

    (On a lighter note, weren’t those bank and armored truck robberies in the movie “The Town” amazingly staged?)

  10. PBallRaven says:

    Probably what happened was the button said “push in case of emergency”. When the ATM ran out of cash or ate someones card cause they forgot their PIN number, they wacked on that button 500 times.

  11. pentium4borg says:

    “None of that protects you, though, from the guaranteed mugging of a $3.00 withdrawal fee.” Get a bank that refunds fees. I’ve been with Schwab for a while and it’s great because I can use any ATM I want for free.

    • Wombatish says:

      For free other than the annoyance cost of filling out all the rebate forms or remembering to mention it every.single.time.

      The refunds are nice but they certainly do make you ride them about them.

    • ames says:

      :c :c :c I had one, and it got eaten up by a bigger bank, who sent out a letter saying “Look! Instead of only three ATMS you now have access to 1600!” No, I previously had free access to every ATM in the world, jerkbank. After you bought it out, I had twelve. Bite me.

  12. Bog says:

    The one time I had someone who appeared to be obviously casing me while I was at an ATM backed away quick and far when he saw the profile of an “accessory” on my belt under my sweatshirt. Be polite, manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.

    • LACubsFan says:

      Yeah I have an accessory too…. you should prevent printing because you can get reported. It’s best to just give them the stance and reach for it.

  13. UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

    The $3 can be avoided if you simply bank with a bank that doesn’t charge the fee.

    /smugselfsatisfcation.

  14. AllanG54 says:

    There are enough BoA ATMs around that I never use another bank’s ATM. Hence, I never pay a fee.

  15. KyBash says:

    How much would it cost to add code to let a person have more than one PIN and each acts differently?

    One PIN would only let you access information or make deposits/transfers and gives an “Insufficient Funds” warning if you try to take out cash.
    Another PIN is good for one daily cash withdrawal up to an amount specified by user.
    Another PIN only works once, and you have to go to a secure website to specify a new PIN.
    etc. etc. etc.

  16. mahohmei says:

    Burglar alarms are well-known for having duress codes. If you’re accosted upon entering your house, you enter the duress code, and your monitoring agency will report a hostage situation.

    A duress code for an ATM card could be used to send the police to the scene. While the robber might simply leave after the robbery, the forced withdraw could also be a part of a kidnapping or carjacking, in which case imagery from the ATM’s camera would be useful.

  17. 451.6 says:

    I totally read this as “Muggle Alarms”